Labor Coach / Partner
Helping a woman give birth naturally is one of the most demanding and rewarding things you can do. A good labor coach or partner is patient and flexible; gentle and strong; responsive and able to lead. The partner is not there to force or demand anything of the mother, but to serve the needs of the mother as she labors.
In natural birth circles, the term "labor coach" has gone out of style to be replaced by the more modern term "labor partner." I agree in some ways the term labor coach doesn't quite explain the job. But I also find the men I teach can relate easily to the role of a coach for several reasons:
The coach is instrumental in preparation and practice, keeping the athlete in top form physically and mentally. The job of labor coach does not begin with labor. The new mother needs the help to prepare for the work ahead of her.
The coach is the eyes and ears outside the game, giving the athlete key information to help adjust strategies to play best. In the same way the labor coach is able to see beyond the current contraction to understand the progress the mother has made and what changes may help.
The coach cannot play for the athlete, but never leaves the athlete alone during a game. The coach is always there encouraging and helping in any way possible. In labor, the coach cannot give birth for the mother, but a good coach doesn't leave her to do the job alone.
This is where the similarities end and the term labor partner becomes a better fit, because unlike the athletic coach, the labor coach works with the mother to accomplish the task. It is still the mother's work, and no one can do it for her. But in labor, it is as if the coach walks on the football field and blocks the offensive linemen so the quarterback can throw a pass. It cannot happen that way in sports, but that is exactly what being a labor coach (or partner) is all about.
To be an effective coach or partner, you will need a combination of skills and knowledge. In some ways, you will need to be more prepared than the mother in labor. While she is able to respond to her body's cues instinctively, you will need to be able to respond to her body language and verbal requests. While she is living in the moment, contraction by contraction you will need to be with her and simultaneously planning ahead so you can implement techniques that may benefit her. You will need a good base knowledge of the process of labor and ways to handle any challenges that may arise. You will need to understand the sources of pain and ways to manage that pain. You will also need to be ready to handle any fear or anxiety the mother may experience.
It may sound like a difficult job, and it can be. But if you are willing to try a few things, find your strengths and build off them, you may just find yourself enjoying the role. Whether you call yourself a labor coach or a labor partner is irrelevent.